Fundraiser will help spice up your life — literally

There will never not be a tiny bottle of saffron in my cupboard. Threads of this spice, made from the flower saffron crocus, makes my chicken arroz caldo aromatic and just the right hue of gold. I never make paella without it.

The right spice makes all the difference.

The volunteers and staff of Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madre have cooked up a bold, creative way to help our neighbors in need. MDPRC’s Spice Up Your Summer campaign is simple: Donate $100, and you get to feed the hungry and also receive a spice kit containing a bulk-sized bag of spice or herb and a couple of recipes featuring the included spice that are easy to make and tasty to the palate.

“Spice Up Your Summer” was launched to specifically support the Mater Dolorosa Food Ministry Program with the help and generosity of longtime friend and retreatant, Tom Tharayil, president and CEO of Pax Spices in Covina. Before helping launch this new fundraiser, Pax Spices had already donated varied spices to the Mater Dolorosa kitchen.

Mater Dolorosa staff and volunteers wanted to stay useful despite closing their doors and grounds to the public in mid-March. Michael Cunningham, the center’s director, led his community to work with local groups and meet the service gaps of organizations such as Union Station Homeless Services and the city of Sierra Madre as a result of “stay-at-home” orders.

With help from former corporate sponsors such as Cacique and the commitment of a kitchen staff, Mater Dolorosa repurposed its commercial kitchen to go from making meals for weekly retreatants and guests to one that prepares and packages roughly 1,700 meals per week for local distribution. Since March, this new ministry has prepared, packaged and delivered approximately 25,000 meals.

“While the primary mission at Mater Dolorosa is spiritual in nature, the COVID-19 pandemic has inspired us to reach out in other ways,” Cunningham said. “Our Food Ministry Program allows us to feed the human spirit in a very practical way, so we hope to secure continued funding to turn what started as a necessary response to the pandemic into a permanent, ongoing food ministry program. The need for nutritious meals in our communities is real and persistent.”

In addition to preparing meals for Sierra Madre seniors, Richard Solda, Mater Dolorosa’s executive chef, and his crew also cook for a homeless community in Lario Park in Azusa served by Foothill’s Kitchen in Monrovia and the St. Francis Center in Los Angeles.

“Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center in Sierra Madre Retreat Center has come to our rescue,” Carol Daley, co-founder of Foothill’s Kitchen, said. “The (Passionist) Retreat Center is making 150 meals every day for us, and then freezing them until we pick them up. They are cooking enough food for us to serve six days a week!”

Each meal prepared by the Mater Dolorosa kitchen staff costs $6.53 to produce, which is about 15 meals for every $100 donated to the food ministry. (And remember, you also get a spicy gift.)

This inspirational drive hopes to spread awareness about the needs of the homeless and homebound seniors in our community who, given the recent uptick of COVID cases in Southern California, continue to rely on services such as this to stay safe and stay well.

By focusing on physical nourishment as well as its spiritual mission to nurture souls, Mater Dolorosa has embraced the best of community during these difficult days.

Donations will help this brave new ministry keeps its important staff fully utilized, as well as support their mission in the most practical way we know how. Donate online or mail a check to Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center at 700 N. Sunnyside Ave., Sierra Madre, CA 91024.

Consider donating with another family to lighten the fiscal load and split the spice gift to make many meals. I promise to dish on what recipes I’ve tried with my anticipated spice treasures.

The Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center is a ministry of the Passionists of Holy Cross Province. The Passionists purchased the 88-acre Retreat Center property in Sierra Madre in 1924 and have offered spiritual retreats there since 1926. For more information, visit www.materdolorosa.org.

Anissa V. Rivera is columnist for Pasadena Star-News, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Whittier Daily News, Azusa Herald, Glendora Press and West Covina Highlander San Dimas/La Verne Highlander Southern California News Group, 605 E. Huntington Drive, Suite 100, Monrovia, CA 91016, 626-497-4869.

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